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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When your season is just reaching the first week of July and it’s already drawing comparisons to the historic achievements of the late Larry Phillips and Greg Biffle, you know you’re doing something right.
There’s very little Keith Rocco hasn’t done right in 2010.
In recognition of his incredible performance on the asphalt short tracks of Connecticut, Rocco is a near unanimous choice for the top spot in July’s edition of the Hunter Index.
Rocco has 16 wins in 28 starts racing his Modified at Thompson International Speedway, Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl. Over the past month, the 25-year-old, from Wallingford, Conn., has piled up six wins and eight top fives in 10 starts to further cement his hold on the No. 1 spot atop the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings.
The Hunter Index is a new feature in 2010 on NASCARHomeTracks.com that will spotlight the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Developmental Series in a monthly power poll. Drivers are ranked on their performance over the previous month. The rankings are compiled by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives.
Rocco collected five of the six first-place votes to take the top honors after being voted second in each of the two previous months.
“At Stafford Motor Speedway, considered the deepest and most talented SK Modified field of the three tracks Rocco competes at regularly, he has been virtually unstoppable this year and won all four SK Modified races over the past month,” said Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. “At the Waterford Speedbowl, unless he breaks and gets wrecked, he wins. It's been no contest at either track for Rocco this year.”
Fourteen of Rocco’s 16 wins have come with a maximum 20-car field, leaving him just 22 points shy of a perfect score of 810.
The last drivers to record a similar season under the NASCAR championship format were the Phillips and current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Biffle in 1995. Phillips and Biffle achieved the maximum points under the system at the time; Phillips won the crown by virtue of more overall wins (32-27).
Even more impressive, because of the handicapping system at the tracks he races at, Rocco routinely starts back in the pack and must sprint to the front.
Adding to the difficulty, Rocco’s main rival at Thompson and Stafford, Ted Christopher, checks in at No. 6 in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings and No. 4 in July’s Hunter Index on the strength of three wins and six top fives in seven starts. Christopher has also been impressive on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
The other first-place vote in the Hunter Index went to Andrew Ranger.
The 23-year-old from Roxton Pond, Quebec, has found success all over the map. Literally.
Ranger, the two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 champion, took over the No. 35 Waste Management Chevrolet in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in May. He drove it to the win in the K&N Pro Series East event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma and was ninth in the East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He also finished second in the Canadian Tire Series race at Mosport International Raceway.
And then came July 3.
Ranger won the K&N Pro Series East race at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., hopped on a helicopter to Quebec, and then drove from the rear of the field to finish ninth in the Canadian Tire Series race at Autodrome St. Eustache that evening.
“It’s easy to dismiss Ranger’s success as road-course related,” said Jason Christley of NASCAR. “Certainly his two wins can be owed to his success in that area. But his impressive runs earlier this season at Martinsville and then New Hampshire in the K&N Pro Series car, and then arriving at St. Eustache in time for driver introductions, hopping in a car he hadn’t touched all day, and pulling out a top- 10 finish, speaks volumes toward Ranger’s acclimation to oval racing.”
Ryan Truex, who won the K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire and finished fifth at Lime Rock, came in third in the voting, followed by Christopher. In addition to his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series success, Christopher finished second to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman in the Whelen Modified Tour race at New Hampshire.
Marty Ward, who has won the last four Late Model races at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, rounded out the top five.
Ryan Preece (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) was sixth, followed by Brett Moffitt (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), DJ Kennington (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series), Auggie Vidovich (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West) and Craig Von Dohren (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series).
JR Fitzpatrick, who won at Mosport and is second to Kennington in the Canadian Tire Series points, was one of three drivers to earn honorable mention.
The Hunter Index is named for Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications and a longtime supporter of the weekly and touring series that make up the NASCAR Developmental Series.
The Index was designed in the off season as an opportunity to compare the top drivers from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series all the way up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. It will also encompass drivers from the NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The NASCAR Mexico Series did not hold events since the previous Index was released.
The panel also included media members Courchesne representing the Northeast, Adam Fenwick of National Speed Sport News from the Southeast, Tim Haddock of haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com from the West Coast, and Spencer Lewis, representing the Canadian publication Inside Track Motorsports News. They are joined by Brett Bodine, who is the chairman of the NASCAR Resumé Committee and represents the NASCAR competition side on the panel, and Christley, the NASCAR public relations representative.
|1.||KEITH ROCCO (NASCAR All-American Series)|
|Why he’s here: It’s hard not to be impressed with Rocco’s old school mentality – he works on all his own cars and races three nights a week. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal because, well, that’s just how his father did it and the way it’s always done. The most interesting fact in Rocco’s dominance: Only 13 other drivers have run more races this season than Rocco has won this year.|
|2.||ANDREW RANGER (NASCAR K&N Pro Series / Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: He won in California and Connecticut, and almost won in Ontario. And he’s proving pretty adept at the oval racing, too.|
|3.||RYAN TRUEX (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: Defending champion moved to top of the points with an impressive win at New Hampshire and backed it up with a strong run at Lime Rock.|
|4.||TED CHRISTOPHER (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series / Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: Christopher is just about the only thing keeping Rocco from completely dominating at all three Connecticut short tracks.|
|5.||MARTY WARD (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Four straight wins has Ward in line to become just the second driver to win six Late Model titles at the historic Greenville Pickens Speedway.|
|6.||RYAN PREECE (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: A pair of top five runs at New Hampshire and Lime Rock have kept Preece in the pack of drivers chasing Bobby Santos for the Modified crown.|
|7.||BRETT MOFFITT (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: Moffitt appears to have put his early season bad luck behind him with top-five finishes at New Hampshire and Lime Rock, and he’s keeping Truex in his sights.|
|8.||DJ KENNINGTON (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Late pass for the win at St. Eustache helped Kennington wrest the series lead away from Fitzpatrick.|
|9.||AUGGIE VIDOVICH (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why He’s Here: A completely dominating performance at Toyota Speedway produced Vidovich’s first series victory.|
|10.||CRAIG VON DOHREN (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Three wins in four starts on the Pennsylvania dirt at Grandview Speedway gives Von Dohren the momentum in a tough track championship fight.|
HONORABLE MENTION: JR Fitzpatrick (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series), John Smith (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour), and Ron Sheridan (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)